Luxury isn’t what it used to be. Shifting consumer values of younger generations prioritise trends over classic symbols. “The biggest change I’ve seen is that luxury brands are focused on being more fashionable and trendy. You realise products in the market are not timeless at all, as [brands] dictate trends and cycles get shorter and shorter.” says Gachoucha Kretz, an affiliate professor in marketing and brand management at HEC Paris.
Such are the strengths of luxury brands like Alexander McQueen, Versace and Valentino, which frequently “create things that stand out” and are perceived as “independent” and “bold”, says Kretz. “These brands have a strong identity and styles that are highly Instagrammable.”
The Vogue Business Luxury Fashion Index, which surveyed more than 8,000 luxury consumers worldwide, found that Alexander McQueen, Versace and Valentino outperformed its peers in digital marketing and brand perception. According to the findings, the three houses have all amassed a significant number of views on Condé Nast platforms like Vogue Runway for the last two years running, despite lagging in other consumer perception metrics like brand loyalty. That puts them ahead of leaders Louis Vuitton, Dior and Gucci.
Valentino Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020
© Peter White/Getty Images
High-end fashion has shifted over the years to include items like sneakers and hoodies, which would not have been called luxurious a few years ago. More often today it’s the brand that attracts customers, which means luxury brands can sell non-luxurious products with less harm to their cachet. As Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia told the Financial Times in 2018, young shoppers are now prioritising uniqueness over the traditional markers of craftsmanship, a phenomenon that has continued.
These houses also have a strong presence on at least one of the four social media networks tracked: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Both Versace and Alexander McQueen had engagement rates of over 40 per cent on Facebook, far higher than most brands, and also finished in the top 10 for Instagram engagement. Versace, meanwhile, was the highest-rated brand on YouTube, doubling its year-over-year views, while Valentino was in the top 10 for engagement. This currency will be important for winning over Gen Z customers, which could make up 40 per cent of luxury purchases by 2035, according to Bain.
Whereas in the past, when brands mostly created their public image from the top down, through advertisements and by building relationships with magazines, luxury labels now have to consider all their customers because of social media, and Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of digital channels more than ever, says Antonio Achille, senior partner and global head of luxury at McKinsey & Company. “Digital is a ‘stress test’ that companies should apply, not only for customer engagement, but in all its processes and throughout the entire value chain.”
Alexander McQueen and Valentino are among the brands that were popular on secondhand sites, the Index also found, suggesting resonance beyond core luxury consumers, says Anusha Couttigane, principal fashion analyst at Kantar.
Social media “moments” are driving the three brands’ popularity at resale, says Fanny Moizant, co-founder and president of Vestiaire Collective. The platform saw a 10 per cent spike in Versace searches when Jennifer Lopez closed its Spring/Summer 2020 show. Meanwhile, cult items like the oversized sneaker from McQueen and the Rockstud shoe from Valentino are “very popular in-demand models”.
Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter 2020
© Jamie Stoker
Alexander McQueen and Versace also benefit from a posthumous following that has been buoyed by their inclusion in pop culture and media, says Couttigane.
Linked to these designers is their vision and the execution of their runway shows, which can also start initial interest or demand for a certain collection or product, adds Moizant. Although fashion shows may not return in their original format post-Covid-19, “the luxury industry should explore alternative ways to deliver the same kind of magic of these events,” says Achille.
Couttigane, however, observes that brands such as Alexander McQueen, Versace and Valentino are smaller than the LVMH or Kering-owned monoliths like Dior and Gucci. “This makes their distribution footprints smaller and their teams are more dependent on digital channels to drive interest than grand-scale advertising campaigns,” she says.
Additionally, their product portfolios are not as large as the likes of Chanel or Louis Vuitton, which means that their entry-level price points are higher and secondhand is a more viable channel for shoppers who want to buy them on a budget, says Couttigane.
Relevance and responsiveness are key factors that make a brand popular, says Rebecca Robins, global chief learning and culture officer at Interbrand. “Luxury products and experiences are predicated on the emotional. They don’t represent a need, but an aspiration.”
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